What is the “feminization of the church”?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Church sucks, that’s why men are bored there

A friend who shall remain anonymous sent me this article from The Art of Manliness about the feminization of the Christian church. The article is long and detailed. I want to mention one point briefly, and do another more fully.

Brief one first:

While Christians of the past two centuries have complained of a lack of virility in their pastors, there’s also been a statistically certified lack of other kinds of male mentors in the church as well. For example, a survey done in 1920 found that 73% of Sunday School teachers were women, and still today women are around 56% more likely than men to participate in Sunday school and to hold a leadership position in a church (not including the role of pastor).

Does a lack of masculine role models at church negatively effect the recruitment and retention of masculine members? Edwin Starbuck, a prominent psychologist in the early 1900s thought so, positing that “the boy is a hero-worshipper, and his hero can not be found in a Sunday school which is manned by women.” Murrow agrees, citing the research of Dr. Michael Lindsay, who found that:

“the number one reason high-achieving men don’t go to church is they don’t respect the pastor. Those men who did go to church often chose a megachurch because they saw the pastor as their leadership peer. ‘Respecting the senior pastor is vital to predicting whether a man is actively involved,’ Lindsay says.

“Men respect pastors who are properly masculine,” Murrow opines. “They are drawn to men who, like Jesus, embody both lion and lamb. They find macho men and sissies equally repulsive.”

I wrote an article last week where I criticized the education system for being unfair to boys. It turns out that the church and Sunday schools are also unfair to boys. (Not in all cases. My friend Mary teaches Sunday school, loves apologetics, and goes out of her way to affirm the different male nature in her boys).

Here’s the longer passage:

Research has shown that women are more likely to imagine God as characterized by love, forgiveness, and comfort, while men picture him in terms of power, planning, and control. With more women than men belonging to Christian churches, it’s not surprising that the religion’s theology, and the messages heard from the pulpit, have come to emphasize the former qualities over the latter.

Podles argues that men think in terms of dichotomies and conflicts — in or out, black or white. They tend to be more orthodoxic and privilege rules over relationships. Women (and more feminine men) tend do the opposite, and wish to overcome differences and assuage conflict, for the sake of greater acceptance and peaceable relationships.

Consequently, modern sermons tend to deemphasize the contrast between heaven and hell, sin and life, grace and justice, sheep and goats. There are less martial analogies, fewer calls for Christians to take up their cross and become soldiers for Christ. There is less emphasis on the need to suffer, struggle, and sacrifice for the gospel and for others, and more emphasis on how the gospel can be a tool towards greater self-realization and personal fulfillment. The gospel is presented not as heroic challenge, but therapy – the way to “your best life now.” The focus is on rewards over obstacles. All gain, no pain.

[…]Murrow observes that the modern tenor of the gospel turns the faith’s original message on its head: Whereas Jesus “promise[s] suffering, trial, and pain…today’s Christianity is marketed…[as] the antidote to suffering, trial, and pain.”

Indicative of these changes, Murrow says, is the way “the kingdom of God” has fallen into disuse in describing the church, in favor of the “family of God.” In the former, the ethos is more mission directed; in the latter it’s more’s relational. Each member of the “family of God” has a relationship with each other, and with Jesus Christ. And not just any kind of relationship with the savior — a “personal relationship” — a term whose popularity Murrow thinks contributes to the gospel’s lack of appeal to men:

[…][D]espite its extrabiblical roots, personal relationship with Jesus Christ has become the number one term evangelicals use to describe the Christian walk. Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman’s deepest desire—a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally. It’s imagery that delights women—and baffles men.

[…]When Christ called disciples, he did not say, ‘Come, have a personal relationship with me.’ No, he simply said, ‘Follow me.’ Hear the difference? Follow me suggests a mission. A goal. But a personal relationship with Jesus suggests we’re headed to Starbucks for some couple time.”

[…]“The National Congregations Study found that self-described liberal churches were 14 percent more likely to have a gender gap than conservative ones.” Even when they don’t know it, Murrow says, men “long for a harsh affection—the love of a coach who yells at his players to get every ounce of effort; the love of a drill sergeant who pushes his recruits to the limits of human endurance; the love of a teacher who demands the impossible from his students. As Western society feminizes, it’s getting harder for men to find this kind of love. “

My own view of God is that he is “The General”: the master planner who achieves the salvation of all who can be persuaded without violating their free will. My soteriology is middle knowledge, and my view of God is that he is a great strategist, and a tactical genius. He is expert at orchestrating complex situations where  those who seek him meet the right people, find the right evidence, and have the right experiences. (Read Acts 17:24-28) I respect God as a leader, and look to him frequently to intervene in situations where his honor or his purposes are at stake. I do not expect God to care more about my needs and feelings as he does about achieving his goals.  With respect to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness is expendable. (And I think stating that view offends the feelings of feminized people, but it’s Biblical)

Are women pastors and leaders really liberal? Here’s an example of a female pastor arguing premarital sex and gay rights in the radically leftist Washington Post. This is very common with women in the church, who tend to value compassion over moral standards – acceptance over boundaries. Women generally accept abortion slightly more than men, and gay marriage a lot more than men.  A significant number just aren’t interested in what the Bible says about morality. Women tend to think about how moral standards make people feel, and they don’t want people to feel judged. They don’t usually understand that moral standards and boundaries are there to protect the weak, and to avoid imposing costs on the community to clean up the messes caused by selfishness and recklessness (i.e. – following your heart).

2 thoughts on “What is the “feminization of the church”?”

  1. Ughh. I don’t think blaming women/feminism is the solution. We need to accept the simple fact that an overwhelming majority of the United States’ church leaders are men. When any company fails, you blame the CEO, not the underlings. So until we accept the fact that men have failed to lead our churches, Christian universities and schools (again a majority of all school leadership are men, look at any school board in anytown, usa), we’ll continue on this downward spiral.

    WE ARE MEN. WE LEAD AND WE WIN! We do not blame women or feminism for all our failure and problems in the world. Do you think John Wayne or John Paul Jones would complain and say, “Women just don’t listen me!” No way! They would use their masculinity and convince women their way is the way to go. We as men have the power to override immorality in both men and women but we chose not to because it is too (in baby crying voice) haaaard!

    That’s have a rational debate about how us men can go about using our God-given masculine strengths to right the ship!

    1. You should read the entire article at Art of Manliness, they situate the starting of the feminization on process at the 13th century, and move forward from there. I agree with you that pastors are to blame, but it’s more complicated than that.

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